With both Harden, Embiid out, 76ers lean on Maxey to beat Heat

Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers
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PHILADELPHIA — Tyrese Maxey told teammate Joel Embiid he’d step up in his absence. Then, Maxey took over the game and the fans’ chants normally reserved for the 76ers’ star center.

Maxey scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, including nine in a row during a crucial stretch, and short-handed Philadelphia – without Embiid and James Harden – beat the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat 113-106 on Monday night.

Shake Milton scored 20 points and Furkan Korkmaz added 18 for Philadelphia, which pulled within 2 1/2 games of the Heat in the conference. Embiid sat out with back soreness and Harden with left hamstring tightness.

“He said, `Go out there and help us get a `W’,” Maxey said of Embiid’s pregame message. “I told him, `I got him.”‘

Boy, did he ever.

Maxey took over the final 2 1/2 minutes with the game on the line. In a contest that was tight from the tip, Philadelphia was clinging to a two-point lead when Maxey scored on a drive, was fouled and made the free throw for a 106-101 lead with 2:18 left.

After Jimmy Butler missed a 3-point try, Maxey hit a step-back 3 for a 109-101 lead. Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro couldn’t convert at the other hand, and the second-year guard from Kentucky drained another 3, this time for a 112-101 lead with 1:03 to play that brought “MAX-EY! MAX-EY!” chants from the sold-out crowd which usually reserves the loudest cheers for Embiid.

“He’s just not scared; he’s so comfortable in the moment,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s put in so much work. The more work, the more confident you are, and I think that’s a great testament for Tyrese Maxey.”

Maxey wasn’t done.

After the Heat stole a Philadelphia inbound pass with the 76ers up six points, Maxey raced down the court and blocked Caleb Martin‘s attempt with 21 seconds remaining – resulting in more “MAX-EY! MAX-EY!” chants.

“I was thinking either he’s going to dunk on me, or I’m going to get this block,” Maxey said. “It’s one of those you have to put your body on the line.”

Butler scored 27, Bam Adebayo had 22 and Lowry 20 for Miami, which lost for just the fifth time in the last 20 games.

Philly fans are used to chanting this season, but it’s usually “M-V-P! M-V-P!” for Embiid.

“Great feeling to see all the work you put in come together,” Maxey said.

Embiid entered Monday tied with LeBron James for the NBA lead in scoring (29.8 ppg). The five-time All-Star is one of the frontrunners for the MVP award.

But Maxey took center stage with Embiid on the sidelines.

“Maxey played great,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He was getting to his right hand all night long. Regardless of what we were doing or whatever the scheme was or whoever was on him, he was getting to his right and getting to where he wanted to go.”

Embiid watched Maxey’s heroics from the bench. He has played in 58 games this season and has made playing regularly a priority this season. The sixth-year center hasn’t played more than 64 games in a season. He missed nine contests in November due to health and safety protocols.

Harden has averaged 22.4 points, 10.5 assists and 7.0 rebounds in 11 games with the 76ers since being acquired from Brooklyn for Ben Simmons in a blockbuster trade last month. But the hamstring injury kept Harden off the court in his final four games with the Nets and first four with the 76ers. Since then, the 10-time All-Star and former MVP has played in 11 of 12 games, missing only the 76ers’ 99-82 defeat at Miami on March 5.

He didn’t play in the rematch, either, a potential Eastern Conference final preview.

“We’re just being careful,” Rivers said before the game. Rivers said Harden did not suffer a setback in his hamstring recovery.

The 76ers started Paul Millsap in place of Embiid and Georges Niang for Harden.

The star duo’s next opportunity to return to the court will be in Los Angeles on Wednesday, when the 76ers begin a three-game trip against the Lakers.

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

Three things to know: Joel Embiid returns, scores final 11 vs. Hawks

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Joel Embiid returns, scores final 11 vs. Hawks in 76ers win

The 76ers went 3-1 with Joel Embiid sidelined by a left mid-foot sprain, but they are so much more a dangerous team with him.

Embiid scored the 76ers’ final 11 points of the game against the Hawks, including the go-ahead 10-foot jumper with 18.6 seconds left, to cap a 30-point night and lift the Sixers past the Hawks 104-101.

Embiid was making critical defensive plays down the stretch as well.

Embiid finished with 30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocks. That’s five straight 30+ point games for Embiid, who picked up right where he left off before the injury.

Well, not exactly pick up at the start as Embiid was 1-of-7 shooting to open the game, and he wasn’t the only Sixers rusty at the start. Embiid seemed focused on sharing the ball early but settled into an offensive balance as the game went on. Philly was saved by a solid defensive night.

The 76ers continue to pick up wins with James Harden and Tyrese Maxey out, which is a good sign going forward.

That’s three-straight losses for the Hawks, a loss that stings because they should have been able to dominate the shorthanded 76ers backcourt and get the win.

2) Karl-Anthony Towns goes down with concerning leg injury

Let’s hope the optimistic report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is right and this isn’t as severe as it looked. Because it looked bad.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony simply was pushing off to run back upcourt when he fell to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf.

Towns was helped back to the locker room and did not return, with the Timberwolves officially saying he was out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A calf strain would be the best possible outcome. An MRI Monday will tell us more.

Towns’ stats are down this season as he adjusts to the odd fit of playing next to Rudy Gobert, but he is still averaging 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game.

The Wizards got a monster night from Kristaps Porzingis — a career-high 41 points — on their way to a 142-127 victory. When Porzingis is on this Washington team is tough to beat.

3) Big shots fall at Lakers’ game

Two big shots defined the night at the crypto.com arena Monday.

First, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 with a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

The second one hurt the Lakers more. Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

The Lakers got lost in the scramble. On the initial action, Russell Westbrook doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner, which left the screen setter Myles Turner open at the top for a clean look at a 3 — but he was short and came off the front of the rim. Tyrese Haliburton out-hustled everyone to the rebound and tried to create his own shot but saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West.

The Lakers had won 5-of-6 against a soft part of the schedule but that is about to change and over the next few weeks we will get a sense of where this 7-12 team really stands.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.